Trump and Organization
After Trump assumed office, he immediately enacted systematic policies to conduct widespread and sweeping raids of undocumented immigrants throughout the United States. These operations are conducted by ICE, an investigative agency charged with locating, arresting, and deporting any person in the U.S. who is considered a criminal. The agency, in some capacities, can be equated with a state organized secret police charged with arresting people viewed as opposition to political leaders. Under Trump, immigrants are categorized as the opposition to Americans, and ICE is praised as Americans’ staunch defenders. This culture has emboldened the Trump Administration and ICE to conduct operations which arrest “criminal immigrants” residing in the U.S., as well as “collateral arrests.” Criminal immigrants included those individuals who re-entered the United States, and those without documentation. Collateral arrests, which has not been utilized previously, allowed ICE agents to detain individuals in close proximity of an arrest target who failed to display citizenship documentation.
Less than a month into his Presidency on February 11, 2017, Trump ordered Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to conduct sweeping ICE raids across the United States from California to Georgia. After nearly 160 people were arrested in a five-day five-county operation in Los Angeles, the President of the League of United Latin American citizens stated “it appears that ICE has started its effort to make good on campaign promises regarding mass deportations of undocumented individuals whose only crime is lack of status.” Those targeted in these raids comprised of undocumented criminals, immigration fugitives, and people who re-entered the U.S. following deportation. In response to reporting on the raids, Kelly stated “they’re not rounding anyone up. The people that ICE apprehends are people who are illegal, and then some.” Under the Trump Administration, occupying space in the U.S. without documentation is a criminal offense warranting jail time and deportation.
During the time of these reports, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) informed CNN raids had been occurring in Austin, Texas for multiple nights. City Councillor Greg Casar claimed children in Austin are not attending school and families are remaining in their homes out of fear of the ICE raids. The raids were so pervasive the Mexican Foreign Ministry issued a statement “It is important that fellow nationals familiarize themselves with the different scenarios they might encounter and know where they can go to receive new information and know all their rights.” ICE retorted claiming the raids were a routine “enforcement surge” and unequivocally denied the raids were dangerous and irresponsible.
As the raids persisted, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, an undocumented immigrant who was arrested and convicted in 2008 for using a false Social Security number, attended her eighth regular check-in with immigration officers. Unlike past check-ins, the married mother of two was detained and deported within 24 hours to Mexico. ICE authorities relayed there was nothing unique about Mrs. Garcia de Rayos’ case, explaining she committed a criminal act which warranted deportation. Her attorney explained this process was a direct result of the promises of the Trump Administration to wipe out illegal immigrants. Prior to attending the check-in, Mrs. Garcia de Rayos was warned by immigration activists she may be arrested; however, she chose to attend believing the check-in would resemble the previous seven she experienced.
(Mrs. Garcia de Rayos' daughter defending her mother before press)
In total, the ICE operation resulted in the arrests of approximately 700 people in 11 states across America. The states included Texas, New Mexico, New York, California, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. The arrests took place in public spaces such as workplaces, projecting a threatening image to immigrant communities throughout the United States. In the aftermath of these raids, schools in targeted areas experienced significant drops in attendance, as undocumented parents feared ICE encounters as they took their children to school. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, public schools recorded a sixty percent increase in absences compared to the previous week. The absences sustained for multiple days following the raids, and eventually leveled out after demonstrations by schools to parents reinforcing their protection of students from ICE.
A month following the raids, an undocumented father was arrested in Los Angeles after dropping of one of his daughters at school. Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez had lived in the United States for over 25 years and was the father to four children. Every morning, Mr. Avelica-Gonzalez drove his two daughters to school before heading to work at a local restaurant. After dropping his first daughter off at school, Mr. Avelica-Gonzalez began driving to his 13-year old daughter Fatima’s school. As he pulled away he told his wife and daughter in the car he suspected they were being followed by immigration agents in an unmarked vehicle. He was correct.
(Mr. Avelica-Gonzalez with his two daughters)
Within minutes the car was pulled over and Mr. Avelica-Gonzalez was handcuffed before his wife and weeping daughter, who recorded the ICE interaction on her cell phone. ICE issued a statement supporting the arrest because Mr. Avelica-Gonzalez had former criminal convictions including a DUI in 2009 and an order of removal. During this time, Daniela Vargas spoke at a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi regarding the arrests of her brother and father in the February raids. Immediately following the conference, ICE arrested Daniela Vargas. From February 13, 2017 to December 20, 2019, ICE has conducted 115 “target fugitive operations” throughout the United States arresting approximately 13,000 people.
(Daniela Vargas speaking before press)
On August 7, 2019, the largest workplace ICE raid in the last decade occured, resulting in the arrest of 687 people from seven different plants across Mississippi. The raids took place in the early morning and targeted undocumented migrants working in plants, with the Koch Foods plant in Morton experiencing the greatest quantity of arrests. The small town of 3,462 people depends heavily on the Koch Foods plant for economic stability, and witnessed 342 of its 1,000 employees detained by ICE. The operation was executed four days following a domestic terrorist attack in El Paso, which targeted Latinos, and concluded with the deaths of 22 people. Workers in the factory reported assuming an additional attack was underway when ICE officials entered their workplace with weapons drawn. Following the raids, nearly half of the individuals arrested were released, and only 119 of those arrested are being prosecuted in criminal courts. For some individuals, they would return home after nearly two months in detention, to fearful families anxious and defeated. Elisa, an alias name for an immigrant arrested in the raid, describes to NPR news her son’s distress whenever she exits the house, terrified he may never see his mother again. Despite these efforts against working while undocumented, no legal action has been brought forth before the companies who hired these individuals. Thus far, no repercussions have resulted against these companies, solidifying to Americans across the country that under the Trump Administration immigrants are second-class citizens.
On August 7, 2019, the largest workplace ICE raid in the last decade occured, resulting in the arrest of 687 people from seven different plants across Mississippi. The raids took place in the early morning and targeted undocumented migrants working in plants, with the Koch Foods plant in Morton experiencing the greatest quantity of arrests. The small town of 3,462 people depends heavily on the Koch Foods plant for economic stability, and witnessed 342 of its 1,000 employees detained by ICE. The operation was executed four days following a domestic terrorist attack in El Paso, which targeted Latinos, and concluded with the deaths of 22 people. Workers in the factory reported assuming an additional attack was underway when ICE officials entered their workplace with weapons drawn.
Following the raids, nearly half of the individuals arrested were released, and only 119 of those arrested are being prosecuted in criminal courts. For some individuals, they would return home after nearly two months in detention, to fearful families anxious and defeated. Elisa, an alias name for an immigrant arrested in the raid, describes to NPR news her son’s distress whenever she exits the house, terrified he may never see his mother again. Despite these efforts against working while undocumented, no legal action has been brought forth before the companies who hired these individuals. Thus far, no repercussions have resulted against these companies, solidifying to Americans across the country that under the Trump Administration immigrants are second-class citizens.
ICE Tracks Activists
In March of 2019, The Nation reported ICE maintained a spreadsheet titled “Anti-Trump Protest Spreadsheet” to track individuals who attended protests over a 17-day period in the summer of 2018 in New York City. The information was maintained by the Homeland Security Investigation sector, an investigative arm of ICE. The spreadsheet focused on protests against white supremacy, deportations, and the National Rifle Association. One of the rallies on the spreadsheet was organized by Congressmember Adriano Espaillat in response to a racist banner displayed by a neo-Nazi group. The neo-Nazi group was not included on the list recorded by ICE. None of the protests monitored by ICE reflect the agencies mandate to investigate “cross-border criminal activity.”
During this time, the U.S. government was also collecting information on activists and journalists documenting the Trump Administration’s immigration actions in 2018 and housing the information in a secret database in California. An investigation conducted by San Diego’s NBC 7 uncovered the spreadsheet and that its contents had been shared with various agencies, including ICE and the FBI. The list comprised of 10 journalists, seven who are U.S. citizens, and nearly 50 names of “organizers” or “instigators.” Multiple journalists on the list, and at least one immigration lawyer, had restrictions placed on their passports preventing them from entering Mexico. Others on the list reported being subject to extensive interviews and searches when attempting to re-enter the United States.
Militia Members Targeting Immigrants Southern Border
(Dozens of people who had just crossed the border are detained in Sunland Park, New Mexico, where members of the United Constitutional Patriots patrolled.)
Coinciding with the ramp up of efforts on behalf of the Trump Administration to target immigrants at the Southern Border, militia groups became more empowered to act as vigilante officers, detaining hundreds of migrants across the border with no authority to do so. The most prominent of the groups is known as the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), who triggered a federal warning to militia groups in April 2019. For months, authorities had been aware of the UCP’s presence in New Mexico and their frequent efforts to detain migrants. Little action was taken against their occupation, until the surfacing of a 41-minute video showing a large group of migrants including women, men, and young children sitting in dirt surrounded by militia members.
In conjunction with the 41-minute long video, numerous shorter videos were posted by UCP documenting their detention of migrants. In one of the videos, migrants can be heard coughing and asking for water, as well as relaying they were in the U.S. to file an asylum claim. A woman is heard asking a member to stop aiming the gun at her right before Border Patrol Agents enter the scene. A second video shows Border Patrol exiting, leaving five women and five children in the custody of the militia, to wait for additional agents. In another video, a member of the militia group is heard yelling he has a gun in Spanish, while another man falsely claims to be a police officer. In total, approximately 300 migrants were held by the UCP militia group.
In a separate incident involving the UCP, a police report surfaced detailing a member suggesting employing tactics embraced by Adolf Hitler to fellow UCP members. The incident, reported to the police by a UCP member, relays the group was surveilling the border in New Mexico and watching migrants cross. A group member named Armando Delgado Gonzalez, armed with a handgun and an AR-15 rifle, asked a fellow militia member “Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them? We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.” The member reported the incident to the police and requested leadership remove Gonzalez from the UCP.
Though the group did not approve of Gonzalez’s suggestion, they have laid the foundation for radicals to engage in vigilante efforts against migrants. The groups’ support stems from anti-government extremists, gun rights advocates, conspiracy supporters, and anti-immigration advocates, cultivating a far-right extremist following. The efforts of this militia group reflect an informal organization targeting immigrants while also providing deniability to the government. This is concluded from the federal government’s resistance to pursue legal action against these groups, instead choosing to unofficially work alongside them. Additionally, the UCP is led by Larry Hopkins, who drew the attention of the FBI in 2017 when he began training members to assassinate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and billionaire George Soros.
(Larry Hopkins, the leader of the Constitutional Patriots New Mexico Border Ops Team militia, speaks with "Viper.")